You can see them at sites around the county: festive blue pinwheels and colorful ribbons. But they are joined by signs that speak to a lingering menace in the very communities where they are erected: "Child Abuse Cannot be Silenced."
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Juliette's House, a child abuse intervention center based in McMinnville, has once again taken up the charge of drawing attention to this societal scourge through a variety of educational and engaging events to "highlight the importance of preventing child abuse and taking action," according to Maya Blackmun, chief communications manager for the organization.
Juliette's House has spearheaded the countywide effort for many years, she said, although the pandemic has caused some activities to be limited while others have been added.
In addition to the pinwheels and ribbons erected in front of homes, businesses and schools, the effort in Yamhill and Polk counties includes Wear Blue Day on April 21 "when everyone in the community can show their support for the well-being of our kids," Blackmun said.
The Newberg City Council showed its support a few weeks ago when it proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, outlined the impacts on society of child abuse, reiterated the city's dedication to stopping it and urged its citizens to do what they can to help.
The capstone for the Juliette's House effort is Celebrate the Children, a two-hour evening event slated for April 30 that includes personal stories of the impact of child abuse intervention, an auction and other opportunities to support the organization's work. For more information on the month's events, visit https://bit.ly/3dmjjR8. To register for the event and the auction, visit https://bit.ly/3gggzq9.
The fight by Juliette's House against child abuse is an ongoing struggle, as is the importance of getting the word out on efforts to stop the abuse.
"People need to know that child abuse is preventable," said Russell Mark, president and CEO of Juliette's House. "When a child feels connected to a community, they are more likely to reach out for help, even before abuse may occur. The more adults (who) are paying attention, learning the signs of abuse or neglect, knowing how to effectively respond and generally being engaged in children's lives … kids will know that in their community people care and want to protect them. The more we invest in our children, all our children, the stronger and more thriving are our communities."
Number of cases during pandemic?
Blackmun said reports of child abuse have decreased somewhat during the pandemic.
"We have observed that reports of abuse are down, although we don't have the data yet to develop a full picture," she said, "while we've seen an increase in the severity of the abuse harming children we have assessed at Juliette's House."
Determining the rate of abuse in the two counties Juliette's House serves is always difficult and has been made even more so during the pandemic.
"COVID-19 posed special challenges, with closures of schools and community activities plus stay-at-home orders posing barriers to identifying possible abuse," Blackmun said. "We don't have the statistics yet to show the impact. Even without COVID, we know that child abuse often goes unreported."
Recognizing child abuse signs
Blackmun stressed that society can effectively fight child abuse, but it requires diligence.
"Some things are obvious and need quick action; call 911 if a child is in danger," she said. "There can be a variety of bodily signs for child abuse, including injuries and bruises on unexpected parts of the body, such as the neck or buttocks or anywhere on a child under 4, rather than the shin or elbow. A sign may be an infant's inability to crawl or a toddler to walk. There can be a variety of behavioral signs, such as bedwetting, extreme fatigue, running away from home and more.
"Signs seen in adults may be disregard for the child's feelings or describing the child as 'worthless' or in sexual terms."
Blackmun said the signs may vary by child, culture and community. "Sometimes it's hard to see and be sure, and the child may not speak up," she said. "Everyone needs to know that they don't have to know for certain or be able to prove it. It's better to pick the side of getting children any help they need."
Anyone suspecting a child is being abused should call the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline at 855-503-7233 and they will be connected to a professional who can advise on the next step.
Room for optimism
"We are so fortunate in this county to have so many agencies working together, invested in caring for children and families, Mark said. "Yet, abuse and neglect continue to plague our kids. Working together we can bring solutions. We can bring hope and healing. We can make Yamhill County the safest place to raise families in the state, but only if each of us takes the personal initiative to care, to learn, to be involved and to support organizations like Juliette's House that daily are saving children's lives."
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